The other day I told my wife I needed a good book to read over the weekend. I had just finished reading THE HOUND OF THE BASKER-VILLES, and commented that it would be hard to find another story as interesting.
'I have a book in the school library that I guarantee you can't lay it aside until you've read it all,' she replied. 'The city Carnegie Library culls out old books that aren't being read frequently, and I bought this one for a dime.'
So I've been reading 'LONE COW-BOY-MY LIFE STORY', by Will James. It's a handsome old book, the kind you like to feel between your hands, and is most handsomely illustrated throughout by the author's paintings and sketchings of western cowboys and their horses in action.
I should say, 'We've been reading it together,' since, although my wife has read it years ago, she has demanded that I also read it aloud to her as it never gets old.
LONE COWBOY is the story of Will James's life on the western range. His mother died when he was one year of age, his father when he was only four. But a friend of his father's, Jean Beaupre, a hardy French-Canadian trapper, took the little boy under his wing to raise. The boy called him 'Bopy' for short, and grew to respect him as a sort of sagely god-father which in every respect he was.
Living here and there amongst the cowboys on the western range, the little fellow soon learned to love both the great horses and the men who rode them in rounding up the wild steers for shipment to the nation's markets. One day the lad received a tiny leather saddle. It was the happiest day of his life. And the saddle fitted perfectly onto the back of a small pony the ranch boss had given little Billyalmost as if it had been planned (and it was). The boy's whole life centered around his love for that little pony and saddleand the shiny new cowboy boots with the brass spurs that came later. From then on the little fellow was right in the thick of things with the big cowboys, watching them rope and brand the steers and calves, listening to their lingo, and taking on their ways.
Each year, when trapping season approached, Bopy and the little boy would set out on their horses, crisscrossing over mountain ranges and valleys, heading for the Canadian border.
'Bopy never needed a map,' says Will James. 'How he ever knew where he was going, I'll never know, but he never failed to get there, over all kinds of unmarked trails, many hundreds of miles zig-zagging through forests and fording streams.'
When they got too far north for a horse's hoof to tread, they stabled their steeds at a livery or friend's house, then continued afoot, carrying their packs on their backs. The boy would stay in a cabin, doing odd chores and keeping the home fires burning while Bopy ran his trap lines for three days without returning. But, like a good god-father, Bopy always saw to it that the little boy was well supplied with a tablet and pencils. For he showed an aptitude for drawing wild horses and the wily old French trapper saw the wisdom of fostering his wonderful talent, even in the wilderness. And there were the times too, when Bopy would fetch along some extra gift on his back-packa stuffed horse or picture book to entertain the lad while he'd be away running his traps.
'If Bopy believed in any religion, he never showed it. He never spoke to me on that subject and I've never seen him kneel nor pray,' says Will James. 'But I've had a hint many a time while I lived with him that he had a great lot of religion, only his wasn't of the kind where you kneel and pray and donate, while asking for favors. His was silent and came through his being and senses at what he seen and felt, and from his heart.'
Billy was seven or eight years old before he ever visited a town on their journeys. For the first time he saw other boys and girls, and was so fascinated. Before that he'd only seen older people on the range, and couldn't believe there were 'little people' like himself in the world.
One morning Bopy arose early as usual, but he never came back to get breakfast. The lad became frightened and went out along the swirling river to where Bopy always went for water. And he discovered the old battered bucket jammed among the ice flow. Bopy had fallen in while dipping water and was never seen. The boy was on his own once again, to face the cruel frontier world, far from home base and with a team and wagon and pack horses to ford that terrible river and return to his native haunts.
Later Will James became a great artist, drawing and painting the wonderful pictures of the Old West that bear his name. And an author too, with half a dozen fine books on frontier life to his credit and fame.
Though the language of his stories is not grammatically perfect, Will James tells his stories of the old cow country in the true lingo of his day. It was all he had ever heard and his writings reflect his times and locale.
After the mysterious disappearing of the faithful Bopy, the lad tells of many hair-raising experiences of riding many hundreds of miles alone on horseback.
One particular episode where he is riding alone on his faithful old horse, through the night over mountain range in a terrible blizzard, he says, 'I could see no further than my horse's ears. We'd scale down deep slopes that I couldn't see the bottom of, and climb steep mountain inclines I couldn't see where the top was, but the horse seemed to know and we kept on that way for several hundreds of miles.'
One wonders how they survived, without roads and highway markers. And we ponder the fact that mankind would still be in the stone age were it not for that wonderful gift from God to struggling humanity the noble horse, with its marvelous instincts and homing capacities that mystify modern man and his mechanical radar.
It is the most thrilling of stories, how a little lad was tenderly cared for by an old French-speaking trapper who couldn't speak English, but who cared for him like a mother, educating him in the moral and upright ways that enabled him to live and conquer among the rough and rustic ways of the old west.
As my wife so rightly said, 'If you start to read the book, you won't be able to lay it aside until you've read it all.' How rewarding the book is, and yet to think that a public city library sold it for only a dime, simply because no one wanted to take it out anymore. Where are our old-fashioned standards in this day and age?
There is real religion in the story. Not the kind that shouts 'Hallelujahs and Amens.' But religion of the heart, such as Jesus spoke of in condemning the hypocrites and their false fronts. Read it you'll LIKE IT.
Last summer we had a neighbor living in the trailer next door. He was a poor small-church preacher who was suffering so from heart trouble. His daughter told us that, 'The doctor said Dad should not do any more work, mowing lawns or making garden, or he'd die any minute.'
At the time, I gave a small bottle of Wheat Germ capsules to the preacher, and told him to begin taking two capsules every day, and they'd do more for him than the doctors. He said he couldn't pay for them, but I told him not to worry, I was giving them to him.
Several evenings ago my wife and I were out in front, burning up some limbs and branches left from a huge Chinese Elm we had to have cut down. Suddenly we noticed a man approaching down the sidewalk at a lively step. He was dressed in white shirt and necktie, and neatly pressed suit. He didn't look like anyone we knew, but when he got closer, we noticed it was the same Rev. Adams.
'Did you get to take any of the Wheat Germ capsules I gave you last summer?' I asked.
'I sure did, and they really helped me,' he replied with gusto. 'I only took half of the bottle, and look at my stomach. I'm taking on weight, and now have been mowing lawns again.'
'I'm walking down to the church over here. I have to preach tonight,' he said.
He appeared an altogether new and different fellow. We were quite surprised and happy to have helped him. Last summer he was so dejected and hopeless of his chances for living. Now, by his own testimony, he was a new creature, physically, with new horizons for the coming summer, both in his manual labors and religious activities.
I had told him that Wheat Germ can rebuild and strengthen a weak heart. He believed me, and from there went on faith to believe it could happen. True Christianity is helping others. Not only are those who are helped made more happy, but those who do the helping receive rewards unspeakable in words or language only the heart. Like 0l' Bopy who had helped a little orphaned lad on the western frontier, we had helped a brother in need, in our modern day world, and were enriched for doing so.
Wheat Germ is so easy to get, at most drug stores and health stores everywhere. And its great benefits are only now becoming recognized as vital to weakened hearts, to such an extent that no one should deny themselves of this blessing.
A kind word, a kind deed, Jesus glorified above volumes of Holy Writ. And these kind words and kind deeds often come from those we least expect it.
It is one thing to read religion. But another thing to do it.